A cushion whizzed across the room into his face. A tag began. Sikes on the table was laying down laws of equipment at the top of his voice. “Well, I’m going to take nothing but socks. I’m going to stuff my pack absolutely bung full of socks. Man alive, I tell you nothing matters except socks. If you can keep on getting clean socks every—I’m going to stuff in socks enough to last me—“
[Footnote 1: A very short time afterwards, while the incident was fresh in his memory, Sabre heard that Sikes took out eleven pairs of socks and was killed, at Mons, in the pair he landed in.]
The blessed gift in the war was to be without imagination. The supreme trial, whether in endurance on the part of those who stayed at home, or in courage on the part of those who took the field, was upon those whose mentality invested every sight and every happening with the poignancy of attributes not present but imagined. For Sabre the war definitely began with that visit to the Mess on the eve of the Pinks’ departure. The high excitement of the young men, their eager planning, the almost religious ecstasy of Otway at the consummation of his life’s dream, moved Sabre, visioning what might await it all, in depths profound and painful in their intensity. His mind would not abandon them. He sat up that night after Mabel had gone to her room. How on earth could he go to bed, be hoggishly sleeping, while those chaps were marching out?
He could not. At two in the morning he went quietly from the house and got out his bicycle and rode down into Tidborough.
He was just in time. The news had been well kept, or in those early days had not the meaning it came to have. Nevertheless a few people stood about the High Street in the thin light of the young morning, and when, almost immediately, the battalion came swinging out of the Market Place, many appeared flanking it, mostly women.
“Here they come!”
Frightful words! Sabre caught them from a young woman spoken to a very old woman whose arm she held a few paces from where he stood. Frightful words! He caught his breath, and, more dreadfully upon his emotions, as the head of the column came into sight, the band, taking them to the station, burst into the Pinks’ familiar quickstep.
The Camp Town races are five miles
The Camp Town races are five miles long,
Doo-da! Doo-da! Day!
Gwine to run all night. Gwine to run all day.
I bet my money on the bob-tail nag,
Somebody bet on the bay!
He never in his life had experienced anything so utterly frightful or imagined that anything could be so utterly frightful. His throat felt bursting. His eyes were filled. They were swinging past him, file by file. Doo-da! Doo-da! Day! He scarcely could see them. They were marching at ease, their rifles slung. They seemed to be appallingly laden with stupendous packs and multitudinous equipment. A tin mug and God knows what else beside swung and rattled about their thighs. The women with them were running to keep up, and dragging children, and stretching hands into the ranks, and crying—all crying.